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Best Fixed & Handheld VHF Marine Radios of 2024

Best Fixed and Handheld VHF Marine Radios
Best VHF Marine Radios to buy

There’s nothing quite like being out on open waters. You can feel the breeze blowing through your hair as you explore new areas. 

It’s an excellent way to disconnect from the world and let your mind wander. Although, when you’re out on the open sea, you need a way to contact the shore.

That’s why many boaters and sailors rely on VHF marine radios. These devices allow them to stay in touch with other boats, marines, and the United States Coast Guard. 

For that reason, in case of any emergency, these gadgets are exceptionally useful to have on hand. So, if you’re looking for the best VHF marine radios on the market, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the most popular fixed and handheld versions of the devices. We’ll also cover what to look for when buying a marine radio.

Best VHF Marine Radios

There are countless fixed mount Marine radios and Handheld VHF marine radios on the market. From incredibly sophisticated models to ones that can only perform basic functions. 

That means it can be quite challenging to pick out one device. So, to make your life easier, we’ve tested many VHF Marine Radios (Handheld and Fixed) and selected a list of some of the best models out there. 

In this section, we’ll dive into the specifications of each gadget and its benefits and drawbacks.

1. Standard Horizon HX890 – The Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Standard Horizon HX890 Handheld VHF Two Way Radio
Weight2.2 lb.
Output power6 W.
Voltage12 V.
BatteryLithium-ion battery
Battery life11 hours
Specifications of Standard Horizon HX890


The Standard Horizon HX890 handheld VHF radio combines all the elements of an excellent VHF radio into one. I love everything about this one. The ease of use, build quality, and reliability of the Horizon HX890 makes it the number one pick on my top handheld marine radios.

First up, it offers impeccable audio quality. 

Because of that, you’ll be able to receive messages clearly without much effort. Other than that, the microphone is also quite sensitive. 

This means all your transmissions should arrive at their destination with minimal distortion

Moving on, the HX890 Handheld VHF Marine Radio has a sturdy build. The outer shell can handle quite a bit of force without breaking or scratching.

Yet, even though it’s durable, it’s not bulky. This makes slipping into a belt clip a piece of cake. 

Plus, this radio can float on the surface of the water. Add to that the water-activated strobe lights and you won’t have to worry about finding it if you drop it overboard. 

The HX890 also provides one of the most secure communication hubs. It comes with two built-in scrambler systems that’ll encode all your messages. 

For that reason, only the receiver of your signal will be able to decipher it. This way, you ensure all your messages are secure and private.

The HX890 VHF radio has good battery life. On average usage it will give you 10-12 hours of usage time. 

Sadly, the HX890 is on the heavier side, which means it’s difficult to use one-handed. That can be a major deterrent for many sailors. 

Besides that, this radio is one of the most expensive models. You’ll need to invest a bit of money to enjoy all the extra features.


  • Impeccable receiver audio quality provides clear messages
  • Noise-canceling microphone reduces distortion of transmitted signals
  • One of the most durable VHF radios on our list
  • Lightweight and can float on the surface of the water
  • Comes with two scramblers to ensure your messages are private


  • Has a heavy build which makes it difficult to carry around for some people
  • On the pricier side when it comes to VHF radios

2. ICOM IC-M25 – Best Floating Handheld VHF Marine Radio

ICOM IC-M25 01 Handheld VHF Marine Radios
Weight0.49 lb.
Output power5W.
Batterylithium-ion battery
Battery life11 hours
Channels16 channels
Specifications of ICOM IC-M25 Euro Handheld Marine Radio


The ICOM IC-M25 is one of the most popular models on the market. It has quite a few features that help it stand out. 

First off, this device is exceptionally lightweight. Since it weighs less than half a pound, you should have no issues carrying it around for long periods. 

To add to that, it comes with a sleek design. This makes attaching the radio to your belt a walk in the park. 

Besides that, it has an impressive battery capacity. Sailors will be able to actively use the device for around 11 hours on just one charge. 

Plus, it can last for about 29 hours on standby. In addition, it only takes three hours to fully charge the gadget. 

To top it all off, the device has a micro USB connector. Because of that, you’ll be able to use any mobile charger to power up the gadget. 

Moving on, the ICOM IC-M25 can float. So, if you happen to drop the device, you’ll be able to fish it out again. 

Not only that, but it also comes with LEDs that flash when you drop the gadget. This will make finding it in the dark a breeze. 

Even though this radio is on the smaller side, it boasts a large screen. That way, you won’t need to reach for your reading glasses to check your messages. 

Yet, the ICOM IC-M25 has a couple of issues. For starters, it doesn’t have GPS or DSC capabilities. 

That means you may have trouble calling for help using this device. 

Other than that, the ICOM IC-M25 isn’t fully waterproof. So, it won’t last long if you drop it overboard.


  • One of the most lightweight VHF radios on our list
  • Comes with a sleek design that makes storage a cakewalk
  • Battery can last for up to 11 hours of continuous use
  • Has a micro USB connector for universal charging
  • Easy to find when dropped because of the flashing LEDs


  • Doesn’t have GPS or DSC capabilities
  • Isn’t a good option for distress calls
  • Not fully waterproof 

3. Standard Horizon GX1400G – Best Waterproof Fixed Mount VHF Radio

3 Standard Horizon GX1400GB VHF Fixed Marine Radio
Weight2.8 lb.
Output power25W.
Voltage11 to 16V.
Battery lifeN/A
Specifications of Standard Horizon GX1400G Eclipse


Standard Horizon GX1400G Fixed VHF Marine radio is my top pick when it comes to the fixed Marine VHF radios.

There are a few common features between the GX1400G and the ICOM M330. For instance, both devices have a 25W output power and a similar voltage. 

Plus, they come with GPS and DSC capabilities. 

Due to that, their operation is comparable. Although, there are a couple of differences that distinguish the two devices. 

For starters, GX1400G has a built-in WAAS receiver. This tends to be more accurate than GPS at triangulating your location. 

Besides that, Horizon GX1400G Fixed Marine radio has a waterproof rating of IPX8. So, this device can withstand immersion in almost five feet of water for 30 minutes.

Another amazing feature of the GX1400G is that it’s programmable. You’ll be able to assign different soft keys to perform special functions. 

That way, you get to choose which features are available to you with a click of a button. 

On top of that, the gadget has a dual watch function. This allows the user to monitor two VHF channels at the same time. 

You’ll also be able to use the device to schedule regular scans. 

In addition, the display has a bright backlight. This makes it possible to read the screen in broad daylight. 

Yet, with that many features, installing the GX1400G can be a tough task. You have to pay attention to the positioning of the device. 

If you’re not careful, the mount can break easily since it’s made of plastic. 

Aside from that, the software setup can also be finicky. There are many features to keep track of and you have to assign each one to a soft button.


  • Can offer excellent clear audio to users
  • Has a waterproof rating of IPX8, which is one of the highest on our list
  • Soft keys are programmable, so users can choose what features have hotkeys
  • Dual watch allows you to monitor two channels at the same time
  • Scans are programmable, and you can schedule them regularly


  • Installation can be finicky and complicated
  • Mount isn’t all that durable and can break with a little force
  • Navigating all the different feature options can be overwhelming

4. ICOM M330 Marine Class D – Best Budget Fixed VHF Marine Radio

ICOM M330 Marine Class D Best Budget Fixed VHF Marine Radio
Weight1.6 lb.
Output power25W.
Battery lifeN/A
Specifications of ICOM M330 Marine Class D VHF Radio


There are a few features that make the ICOM M330 special. First up, this device is on the smaller side for fixed VHF radios.

For that reason, you should be able to find a space to install the gadget easily.

Aside from that, the M330 comes with high power output dynamic speakers. These can offer clear sounds over a wide range of bass and treble frequencies. I

So, you’ll be able to hear messages clearly, even at the top device volume.

In addition, the receiver boasts reliable performance since it has a 70 dB rating.

Moving on, the M330 has a built-in DSC system. That means the gadget will track Channel 70 or 16, even when you’re listening to another broadcast. 

Plus, the built-in GPS should be able to identify your exact location. I can also pick up on your speed and bearing. 

Because of that, calling for help using the device is incredibly simple. 

On top of that, the M330 has a user-friendly interface. Each radio function has its own soft key, which makes using the device a breeze. 

You’ll be able to search for features and activate them with a few clicks. Plus, you’ll even be able to use the interface when it’s dark outside. 

That’s because the buttons and the display both have backlighting. 

Finally, the M330 has an IPX7 rating. This indicates that it’s waterproof and can last for 30 minutes at a depth of three feet underwater.  

Although, this device does have a few issues. For starters, some customers complained that the volume controls don’t work properly. 

Sometimes the device will force a restart after adjusting the volume. 

Other than that, it’s not the most durable device on our list. 


  • Easy to install because of the compact size and simple design
  • Speakers can deliver clear audio, even at the top volume
  • User interface is easy to navigate and operate
  • Comes with GPS and DSC
  • Keypad and display screen have backlighting to make using the device at night easier


  • Durability can use a bit of improvement
  • Antenna isn’t included with the device

5. Cobra MR HH350 – Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio for Offshore Fishing

Cobra MR HH350 FLT Handheld Floating VHF Radio
Weight0.959 lb.
Output power1,3,6 W.
Voltage7.4 V.
BatteryMah Li-Polymer battery
Battery life8 to 16 hours
Specifications of Cobra MR HH350 VHF Radio


At first glance, the Cobra HH350 looks like a normal walkie-talkie. Yet, this device comes with all sorts of features. 

Right off the bat, you’ll notice that it has three different modes of operation. The device can function using one, three, or six watts. 

Depending on how far you want to send a message, your choice of mode will change. For messages sent over short distances, you don’t need a high output level. 

This brings us to the HH350’s battery. At the top output power of six watts, the device can run for about 8 hours. 

However, you can increase this time by lowering the wattage. If you only use the gadget at one watt, then it’ll last for closer to 16 hours. 

That makes this device an excellent option for offshore fishing trips. 

Other than that, the HH350 comes with a noise-canceling microphone. It’ll be able to pick up your voice, but block background sounds. 

This way, you can have a clear conversation, even when the tides are particularly high. 

Moving on, this VHF radio is buoyant. So, if you happen to drop it overboard, it’ll float on the surface of the water. 

Plus, it has a bright orange strip that goes through the center. This vibrant shade makes spotting the gadget late at night possible. 

Lastly, the Cobra HH350 is one of the most durable radios. Its outer shell can handle a fair bit of wear and tear and is waterproof. 

Adding to that, it has a Burp feature. When water enters the speaker grill of the HH350, the device will vibrate. 

This will push the liquid out of the casing and dry off the radio. 

Yet, the gadget also has a couple of drawbacks. For example, it doesn’t have a DSC function. That’ll make calling for help a little challenging. 

This VHF Marine radio also supports major NOAA Weather Emergency channels so that you don’t need an extra emergency radio.


  • Has three modes of operation (1, 3, or 6 watts)
  • Noise-canceling microphone helps users have clearer conversations
  • At the minimum output, the battery can last for 16 hours
  • Burp function can dry off the device if you drop it in water
  • Orange strip makes finding the device in the dark simple


  • Isn’t suitable for finding your exact location out at sea
  • Belt clip isn’t all that sturdy and can break easily
  • Volume control can be a bit difficult

6. Uniden Atlantis 155 – Best Budget Handheld VHF Marine Radio

Weight0.533 lb.
Output power1 or 3 W.
Voltage12 V.
Battery4 AAA batteries
Battery life10 hours
Specifications of Uniden Atlantis 155


If you’re on a budget and looking for an affordable VHF radio, the Uniden Atlantis 155 may be for you. It comes with many features and it won’t break the bank. This is probably the budget handheld VHF radio. 

First up, this VHF Marine radio is water-resistant and buoyant. That means you’ll be able to use it no matter the weather conditions. 

Besides that, the device has a few distinctive modes. For starters, there’s the Tri Watch version. 

This allows users to continuously monitor multiple channels 9 and 16. Plus, you’ll be able to listen in on a third broadcast at the same time.

That means it’ll be easy to stay on top of any emergency alarms. 

The second mode is the Weather Alert Watch. As you can guess by the name, in this mode, the radio will warn you if the weather turns. 

Finally, the Atlantis 155 has a day and night mode. The screen can switch between both in an instant to ensure you can read the display. 

Another amazing feature of this device is its battery life. With fresh AAA batteries, you should be able to use the Atlantis 155 for about 10 consecutive hours. 

This is usually more than enough for a day trip on the water. Still, you can increase the battery life even more if you activate battery-saver mode. 

You’ll lose the screen backlighting, but you’ll get a few more hours of use. 

The main issue with the Atlantis 155 is the range. Most of the time, this radio will only be able to send messages over short distances. That makes it less than ideal for long trips. 

If long trips are your thing then consider other handheld VHF radios.


  • Tri Watch mode allows you to monitor three channels at once
  • Weather Alert Watch will warn you if the wind is particularly strong
  • Switching between day and night mode is seamless
  • It can last for 10 hours of continuous use
  • Comes with a battery-saver mode that can extend the operational time by a few hours 


  • Can only deliver messages over short-distances
  • Screen is on the smaller side, so may not be suitable for all customers
  • Isn’t completely waterproof

7. ICOM M510 – Most Advanced Fixed VHF Marine Radio

Weight1.6 lb.
Output power25 W.
Voltage13.8 V. 
Battery lifeN/A
Channels4 channels
Specifications of ICOM M510 Class-D Fixed VHF Radio


If you’ve been using VHF radios for a while and you’re looking for an upgrade, check out the ICOM M510. The first thing you notice when you look at the device is the large display. 

It’s a full-color screen that takes up the majority of the gadget with near 180-degree viewing angles. Because of that, you’ll be able to make use of animated functions. 

These will make interacting with the device much more enjoyable. Plus, the screen has adaptive lighting, so you can transition it from night to day with a click of a button. 

Moving on, the M510 comes with a built-in AIS. Using this feature, you’ll get access to real-time vessel traffic data. 

That means you’ll see the trajectory of all the ships around you. This way, you can set a course to ensure you don’t run into any of them.

In addition, the built-in DSC ( digital selective calling )  function allows sailors to contact other ships privately. 

Besides that, the device has an MMSI dongle and an optional voice scrambler. Still, these aren’t the M510’s most impressive features. 

The radio comes with a command-and-control system. This allows you to wirelessly connect your phone to the device.

Then, you’ll be able to run the M510 remotely. You can use your phone to send messages and scan channels while you’re on the go. 

Yet, to fit in all these features, the device is a bit bulky. It’s one of the heaviest radios on our list, which means it can be tough to move around. 

Pros of ICOM M510 Fixed Mount Marine Radio

  • Large screen can display animated functions
  • Comes with built-in Global Positioning System (GPS), digital selective calling (DSC), and AIS
  • Command-and-control system allows you to operate the radio using your phone
  • Has an MMSI reset dongle
  • You can add a voice scrambler or additional speakers

Cons of ICOM M510 Fixed Mount Marine Radio

  • One of the heaviest VHF radios on our list
  • Figuring out all the different controls can be a little tricky
  • Relatively expensive compared to other VHF radios

8. Lowrance Link-6 – Best Fixed Mount Marine Radio With Built-in GPS

Output power25 W.
Voltage12 V.
Battery lifeN/A
Digital Selective CallingYes
Channels3 channels
Specifications of Lowrance Link-6 Fixed VHF Radio

Features of Link-6 Fixed VHF Radio

If you’re worried about getting lost on open waters, the Lowrance Link-6 can help you out. This radio offers one of the most accurate built-in GPS among all fixed VHF radios. 

Because of that, you should be able to triangulate your location, no matter where you go. That can reduce the stress of heading out into unknown territory. 

Other than that, the controls on the device are incredibly simple to use. The keypad is self-explanatory, with clear labels on each button. 

Plus, there are intuitive rotary knobs that help you change the volume and squelch. This will ensure that you get the best audio possible, with minimal effort. 

To top it all off, the fist microphone has an ergonomic design. That means you’ll be able to use the radio for a long time without risking carpal tunnel

Moving on, the Link-6 has multiple scan modes. So, it can keep an eye on emergency channels while you browse other broadcasts. 

To top it all off, this device is simple to install. Thanks to the easy brackets and flush mount, setting up the radio should only take a few minutes. 

However, there are a couple of drawbacks to using the Link-6. For starters, it doesn’t come with an antenna. 

So, if you’re planning on sending messages to distant sailors, you’ll need to buy the missing item. 

Other than that, the Link-6 isn’t that great at canceling background noise. 


  • Comes with one of the most accurate Global Positioning System (GPS) locators
  • Fist microphone has an ergonomic design to make it more comfortable to hold
  • Intuitive rotary knobs make changing the volume and squelch a breeze
  • Allows users to scan channels using multiple modes
  • Controls are easy to figure out and use


  • Doesn’t come with an antenna, so it has a short range
  • Can only scan a few of the available VHF channels
  • Isn’t ideal to use when there’s a lot of background noise

9. Cobra MR HH500 FLT BT – Best Handheld VHF Marine Radio With Bluetooth

Weight0.59 lb.
Output power6 W.
Voltage7.4 V.
BatteryLithium Polymer battery
Battery life10 hours
Digital Selective CallingNo
Specifications of Cobra MR HH500 FLT BT Handheld

Features of Cobra MR HH500 Handheld VHF radio

The Cobra MR HH500 has most of the features of a basic VHF radio. It comes with a microphone, speakers, and an antenna.

Plus, the device is buoyant and has a bright orange core like the Cobra HH350. That makes it a well-rounded radio that’s suitable for many applications. 

Yet, there’s one feature that makes the HH500 special. This gadget has Bluetooth capabilities. 

You’ll be able to connect the radio directly to your smart device by clicking a few buttons. Then, you can keep your phone safe and dry while you make calls using the HH500. 

Not only that, but the gadget will also automatically record the last 20 seconds of any call. That way, you can go back and listen to previous conversations. 

On top of that, the device has an intuitive layout that makes using it a cakewalk. Finally, the gadget has a compact design, which makes carrying it around effortless. 

Although it’s an excellent radio, the HH500 does have a few issues. For instance, the battery life can use some work. 

Even though it’s meant to last for 10 hours, it usually runs out of power much earlier. In addition, the speakers on the device are a bit quiet. 

Unfortunately, that means if your boat engine is loud, you may not hear any audio from the radio. 

Moving on, the HH500 handheld VHF radio isn’t all that water-resistant. While it can handle a few splashes of liquid, it won’t last long underwater. 

Pros of HH500 Handheld VHF Marine radios

  • Comes with an antenna to improve the overall range
  • Bluetooth function allows you to connect your phone to the radio
  • Automatically records the last few seconds of all conversations
  • Intuitive user interface makes operating the device a simple task
  • Compact size makes the VHF radio easy to carry around and store

Cons of Cobra MR HH500 handheld VHF radios

  • Battery life of this VHF radio is on the shorter side
  • Volume can be low and needs a boost
  • Outer casing may allow water to enter the device

Also Read, GMRS radio, UHF vs VHF, & Best Portable Radios.

VHF Marine Radio Overview

VHF radios have been a crucial part of marine life for many years. Sailors use the devices to communicate with the world around them. 

These gadgets function like normal radios. That means they contain a transmitter and a receiver, making them two-way transceivers. 

However, instead of normal signals, these devices deal with very high-frequency (VHF) waves. For instance, the gadgets can pick up frequencies between 156 and 174 MHz.

This gives VHF radios a couple of advantages. First off, this frequency range is best suited for short-distance terrestrial communication. 

Because of that, ships will be able to send messages over a distance of a few hundred miles. 

Plus, buildings don’t seem to affect these signals. So, you’ll be able to receive these messages even if you’re indoors. 

Besides that, VHF signals aren’t affected by electrical interference or atmospheric noise. That means you’ll be able to transmit any message with little distortion. 

Finally, VHF radios use FM channels for communication. This slightly reduces the bandwidth, but it’ll deliver a much clearer sound quality. 

Using these weather channels alone, boaters can stay alert to their environment. They can use the radios to communicate with surrounding watercrafts or the shore.

Then, they can ask about the tides, currents, and port locations, or receive weather alerts. To top it all off, VHF radios are the best way to send out SOS distress calls to the Coast Guard

VHF Marine Radio Types

There are two main types of VHF marine radios. Each variety comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

In this section, we’ll explore the major similarities and differences.

Fixed VHF Marine Radio

As you can tell by the name, this version of VHF radio has a fixed position. It resembles a landline, which means you can only use it from one location. 

For that reason, you can connect it to the main power grid of your boat. So, as long as your watercraft is running, you’ll be able to use the radio. 

As a result, fixed VHF radios tend to have high transmission power. Some devices are able to operate using 25W. 

That will allow the gadgets to reach receivers that are around 25 to 30 miles away. Yet, the Coast Guard can receive messages from fixed radios up to 60 miles away. 

So, you’ll be able to safely navigate through deep waters. 

Handheld VHF Marine Radio

The handheld radio is the portable version of the fixed variety. You’ll be able to carry around the device since it’s not connected to the boat. 

Although, that means the gadget will rely on a battery to operate. That means it’ll only run for a short period before it needs recharging. 

Because of that, most handheld marine radios and radios are more suited for short coastal sailing or cruises.

Plus, the battery operation means these devices have a smaller power output. Typically, they’ll range between five and six watts. 

Due to that, the signals they emit can only extend about two or three miles outwards. Yet, the Coast Guard should be able to pick up messages around 10 miles away. 

Lastly, handheld radios are usually more affordable than the fixed variety. 

VHF Marine Radios Associated Terminology

Before you head out to buy a marine radio, there are a few terms you should be aware of. These will help you communicate with other sailors more clearly and concisely. 

TX, RX, and Traffic

The first, and arguably most common, terms you’ll deal with are TX and RX. 

When you’re sending a message, TX will appear on the radio. This shows that you’re transmitting a signal. 

RX is the opposite, where it stands for receiving a message. 

Moving on, traffic refers to the number of signals people exchange at a certain time. That means it’s the sum of TX and RX messages over a specific period. 


VHF radios will constantly pick up on traffic around you. This is a passive process that happens in the background. 

However, sending a message is an active process. 

You’ll need to use the PTT button to talk to other boats. This stands for Press-to-Transmit or Push-to-Talk.

More often than not, you’ll find this button on the side of your VHF radio. 

Maritime Call Sign

Every boat has a unique maritime call sign. It’s a distinctive identifier that consists of numbers and letters. 

This designation helps ships recognize where a message originated. That way, if a watercraft needs assistance, the Coast Guard knows what boat to look for.  

Dual and Tri Watch

VHF devices can pick up quite a few channels. This makes it a little difficult to monitor all the traffic on the radio. 

That’s when Dual and Tri watch come into play. The former allows you to listen to CH16 plus one other channel at the same time. 

As for the latter, it lets you monitor two other channels besides CH16. 


No matter how much experience you have as a sailor, the open waters can be treacherous. So, in case of an emergency, you’ll need to call in for help.

To do that, you can send a Mayday message out to the Coast Guard. This is the universal word for distress. 

That means, no matter where you are, the people around should come in to help.


As we mentioned, VHF radios are constantly picking up various signals. That means the devices will generate a lot of noise. 

This is due to atmospheric activity or other boats sending messages. So, after a while, the persistent hum of the radio can become overwhelming. 

That’s when the squelch control can come in handy. This is the noise gate of a VHF device.

It’ll allow you to turn down background interference.

VHF Marine Radio Features

With the basics out of the way, we’re ready to jump into the features of VHF radios. Here’s a quick look at the factors you’ll need to keep in mind while shopping for a device. 


DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling, and it’s an incredibly important feature. With it, you’ll be able to send out a distress signal in a flash. 

There are many FM channels that VHF radios can pick up. Some of them are for chatting, while others are specifically reserved for emergencies.  

So, in case of an accident, you’ll need to navigate to the correct channel to send out an SOS. This can be a tough challenge if you’re running around trying to keep your boat afloat. 

Luckily, you can push the DSC button instead. That will automatically send out a distress signal and your current location. 

This way, all you have to do is wait for help to arrive. 

Other than that, sailors can use DSC to have one-on-one conversations with other boats. It’ll allow you to talk to other vessels privately. 


AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. This helps you track ships using radio waves. It acts similarly to a digital radar, but it provides precise position data. 

To do that, the AIS needs to collect information about all vessels. That includes details like:

  • Vessel name
  • Traveling speed
  • Course over ground
  • Maritime call sign

With all this information, sailors will be able to get a bird’s-eye view of their surroundings. This, in turn, will make it easier for vessels to navigate the waters without running into each other. 


To ensure that your VHF radio works properly, you’ll need an antenna. This is a metallic rod that will focus the messages you receive and transmit.

There are two factors you should keep in mind when shopping for antennas. These are the length and dB ratings. 

Typically, the longer the antenna, the better, but that’s not always the case. As the rod gets larger, it’ll be difficult to maneuver and work around.

Plus, the extra length means it’s more susceptible to breaking. 

Other than that, the dB rating decides the focus of the signal and the emission shape it forms. Generally, the higher the dB, the clearer the message you receive will be. 

Finally, the antenna you choose will depend on the size of your vessel. For instance, if you have a 24-foot boat, then you need a rod that’s about four feet long that’s 3dB. 


We talked about how DSC allows you to call other vessels and have private conversations. Although, in order to use this feature, you’ll need a number to dial. 

That’s when the MMSI comes into play. It stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity. This is a unique set of digits that function like a phone number. 

Plus, using this identifier, you can send out your exact position with the click of a button. Because of that, rescue services should be able to locate your vessel and provide help. 

Important VHF Marine Radio Channels

There are about 25 different channels a VHF radio can pick up. Thankfully, you don’t have to monitor all of them to stay safe on open waters. 

Each one has a special designation and application. To get the most out of your radio, you should know what to use every station for. 

So, in this section, we’ll take a look at the most important channels.

Channel 9

Channel 9 is one of the most used stations and is what we call a recreational calling channel. This broadcast allows sailors to communicate with vessels in their immediate vicinity. 

Both commercial and non-commercial ships can use this channel to send out messages. These come in the form of short-distance signals. 

Usually, boaters will use this frequency to talk about the weather or find the best fishing spots. That way, they’re not tying up other more important channels. 

Channel 13

Channel 13 is the more formal version of Channel 9. Boaters can still use this frequency to communicate with other vessels.

Although, the type of data they share over this broadcast is a little different. Instead of discussing trivial matters, this channel focuses on navigation safety. 

Sailors will send out messages detailing their route and various actions. This helps avoid collisions with other boats. 

Fortunately, smaller watercrafts don’t need to keep an eye on this channel. Only vessels that are larger than 20 feet long need to monitor it. 

Channel 16

The Federal Communications Commission designated Channel 16 as the national distress frequency. That means, in case of an emergency, this is the broadcast you use. 

Coast stations will monitor the channel and make sure to send out assistance when needed. This is why it’s crucial for all vessels to keep an eye on this broadcast. 

That way, they’ll be able to help any neighboring ships in a flash. 

Channel 22

After you contact the Coast Guard using Channel 16, you can switch to Channel 20. There, you’ll get specific instructions on how to proceed. 

Doing so will free up Channel 16 for other distress calls. 

Channel 70

We reserve Channel 70 for DSC communications. Boats will be able to talk to each other using this frequency to relay messages and distress calls. 

That means it acts as a substitute for Channel 16. 

FAQs About Handheld VHF Marine radios

Do Sailors Need Licenses to Use a VHF Radio?

Typically, you won’t need a license to operate a VHF radio on a private boat. In fact, most water vessels come with a built-in radio when you buy them. 

You’re allowed to use the device recreationally without much supervision. Although, the controls on the radio can be a little complicated. 

That’s why it’s usually best to take a course on the device before you attempt to use one. 

How Far Will a VHF Radio Transmission Travel?

The answer to this question will depend on the type of VHF radio you’re using. For the handheld variety, your signal should be able to travel up to 10 miles. 

However, fixed radios have a much larger range. They can reach boats that are about 30 miles away. 

Can You Increase the Range of a VHF Radio?

There are three ways you can go about extending the reach of your VHF radio. First up, you can increase the power output of the device. 

Doing so should boost the signal and allow it to travel further. 

Other than that, you can opt for a different antenna. The longer it is, the larger your transmission range. 

Finally, try buying a rebroadcast system. This will strengthen any signals you send out. Although purchasing the device can be quite an investment. 

Can the Weather Affect the Performance of a VHF Radio?

While VHF radios are incredibly reliable, they’re not free of issues. For instance, the weather conditions can significantly impact the performance of the devices. 

Rain, snow, and fog can interfere with transmitted signal. That means the message will get distorted before it arrives at its destination. 

Wrapping Up

If you’re looking for the best VHF marine radios, there are a few factors to consider. For starters, you have to take the type of device into account. 

VHF radios come in two different versions, fixed and handheld. Depending on how you plan to use the device, your choice will change. 

Other than that, you should be aware of a few terms and basic features of the device. Finally, it’s crucial that you spend some time figuring out how to use each VHF channel.

Our top pick for the best overall VHF radio is the Standard Horizon HX890. It provides excellent performance without breaking the bank.


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